Donnacha O’Brien has set his sights on a first Qipco British Champions Day winner as he steps into Ryan Moore’s boots at Ascot.
With Moore riding Ten Sovereigns in The Everest at Randwick in Australia on Saturday, O’Brien will take over riding the Ballydoyle first strings trained by his father, Aidan.
He will therefore surely never have a better chance of breaking his duck – with the likes of Magical, Japan and Fleeting among his possible mounts this weekend, with the meeting live on Sky Sports Racing.
The card opens, though, with the Qipco British Champions Sprint – in which O’Brien could team up with his brother Joseph’s Speak In Colours. Prix de l’Abbaye runner-up So Perfect is his alternative.
“I think So Perfect is heading for the Sprint. But Joseph has Speak In Colours in it too, so I’m not 100 per cent sure what I’m going to ride just yet, but they both have a little chance,” said O’Brien.
“I think five furlongs on soft ground is probably ideal for So Perfect. But when you have sprinters in form you can keep running them, so there’s nothing to say she won’t run a big race over six.
“Speak In Colours is a lovely little horse. He runs his race every time, handles any ground and does things right. He had a very good run at Ascot in the summer, so he’d have a bit of a chance.”
Next up is the Qipco British Champion Fillies & Mares Stakes – in which Magical holds an entry along with Fleeting, who has been placed in two Oaks, the Ribblesdale and the Prix de l’Opera this season.
“Magical has some top-class form to her name, and if she ran here would set the standard. But Star Catcher, if she turns up, has some very good form to her name too,” said Ireland’s champion jockey.
“I’m just not sure if Magical runs here or in the Champion Stakes, but she’s an unbelievable mare and will have a big chance wherever she runs.
“Fleeting has been a little unlucky. I thought I might have won the Irish Oaks on her and then she was a bit unlucky in France last time.
“She likes to be ridden that way, where you take your time, but when you do that there’s always a risk of meeting trouble and you need a bit of luck. Some of her form is up there with the best of any fillies.”
In the Long Distance Cup, O’Brien senses he has a real chance of finally lowering the colours of Stradivarius on Kew Gardens, last year’s St Leger winner.
“Stradivarius has shown he’s the dominant stayer in Europe – but the only one that could possibly give him something to think about would be Kew Gardens, I suppose,” he said.
“He has very high class form over a mile and a half and a mile and six furlongs, and he ran a very good race in the Irish Leger off a very slow pace. He has the potential to put it up to Stradivarius, especially with the ground looking like it’s going to be very soft.
“Hopefully he’s got a big chance, because he could even improve for his run at the Curragh, while Stradivarius has had a hard summer. Those staying races take it out of you, even though he’s been winning them easy.”
In the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, the potential return of 2000 Guineas winner Magna Grecia is on the cards. He has not been seen since disappointing in the Irish equivalent. Dual 1000 Guineas winner Hermosa is another possible.
“I wouldn’t mind a bit of juice in the ground for Magna Grecia,” said O’Brien.
“Obviously we don’t know how bad it’s going to be yet. By the sounds of it, it’s going to be pretty bad, and ideally you wouldn’t want it to be heavy for any top-class horse,” said O’Brien.
“He’ll probably get through it better than some, though. I wouldn’t be as worried about it for him as some of the others.
“Hermosa has been disappointing since her two Guineas wins really, being realistic about it. I’m not sure if she runs, but if she came back to her top form she’d be there with a shout.”
In the feature Qipco British Champion Stakes, either Japan or Magical will be the chosen one for Ballydoyle. The pair finished fourth and fifth in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe recently.
O’Brien added: “Japan ran a very good race in the Arc and if he did run, you’d have to think he’d have a very good chance – but it’s just not 100 per cent that he does go yet, and I’d say Dad doesn’t know himself.
“I honestly don’t know if he’d go to the Breeders’ Cup if he didn’t run, but he could possibly. He’s got tactical pace – which is key out there – but he could be let off for the year to be brought back next season, I just don’t know. He has gate speed, which is important for America.
“Magical maybe doesn’t quite get home over a mile and a half in very soft ground, so that maybe found her out in the Arc. So dropping back to a mile and a quarter could suit her – but where she goes yet, I don’t know. She’s a very high-class filly who would have a chance in either race.”